26.09.2016 - 27.09.2016
I headed into Birmingham on a grey and drizzly Monday. My first mission was to visit The Diskery in search of some vinyl for Greg. The owner was very disappointed he was unable to fulfil any of the requests, but he did make me a cup of tea! Leaving the boxes of £1 and £2 bargains behind, I headed for the Bullring, a shopping centre Erin and I visited 2 years ago. Debenhams and Selfridges were my destinations, and I happily wandered the floors for an hour or two. Not too many purchases, but I will be back!
On Tuesday I decided it was time to further explore the city, and headed for the Jewellery Quarter. After exiting the station and wandering ever so slowly past the jewellery shops that lined each side of the street, I made my way to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter. This fascinating place is on the site of a former jewellery factory, opened in 1899 by Mr Smith and his uncle Mr Pepper. It remained in the family until 1981, latterly run by three of Mr Smith's children. In 1981, having been unable to find either a family member or outside buyer willing to take the factory on, the Smiths made the decision to shut up shop. They made the decision on Monday night, told the staff on Tuesday morning, and closed the doors on Friday afternoon. They intended to return to clear out the accumulation of almost 100 years of history, but were unable to bring themselves to do it.
The building was subsequently sold to the Birmingham City Council, but it was several years before the building was opened and the time capsule of jewellery production uncovered. It was not only the jewellery workings that were discovered; dirty teacups and workers' dustcoats were found where they were left on that Friday afternoon.
The tour of the museum was a fascinating insight into the jewellery industry of the day. Mr Tom, one of the 3 Smiths who ran the factory prior to its close, was determined to recover every last piece of gold dust shed during the manufacturing process. At the end of every day he would sweep the floors and burn the refuse in the furnace, extracting the gold that remained after all else had burned away. Staff were not allowed to take home their dust coats lest they inadvertently carry the gold dust away; the coats were laundered at the factory where the basins were not connected to the mains. The water was collected and filtered through sawdust, which was then burned in the furnace and the gold extracted. Every tiny speck was valuable.
Smith and Pepper were trade jewellers, so their name was not known outside the wholesale jewellery world, despite being one of the largest jewellery manufacturers in Britain in their day. I'm glad their legacy lives on in the time capsule that is the museum.
Jewellery Quarter visited, it was time for a spot of shopping before heading for home to rest my weary feet. The names of streets such as Ludgate Hill and Newhall Hill are a clue that Birmingham is not always flat!
I had a couple of conversations throughout the day that left me shaking my head. First was my taxi driver who on noting I was going to the station, informed me that trains are the fastest way to get anywhere. Then there was the woman I sat next to outside the cathedral, who said today was the first time in her 77 years on earth that she'd felt the need to sit down! I appreciated her swift dispatching of the young man wanting to share the Christian truth with us - "I'm not interested in truth of any kind today, thank you very much". He was a bit flummoxed, and went on his way.
Tomorrow is shaping up to be a day of domestic chores in preparation for heading to France on Thursday. I expect the next post will come from there, unless doing my washing tomorrow turns out to be far more exciting than I'm expecting it to be!